TikToker Slapped With Nearly $803,000 Damages Bill in Sony Music Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

trefuego lawsuit sony music
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trefuego lawsuit sony music
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A federal court has ordered TikToker and artist Trefuego to pay Sony Music approximately $803,000 in connection with a copyright infringement lawsuit. Photo Credit: Wesley Tingey

A federal judge has officially slapped a TikToker with an over $800,000 infringement fine in a complaint levied by Sony Music Entertainment (SME).

District Judge Mark T. Pittman signed off on the sizable damages award in a final judgement today, after SME levied the straightforward infringement action in March of 2023. Filed against one Dantreal Daevon Clark-Rainbolt, known professionally as Trefuego, the suit alleged “flagrant and deliberate infringement” on the part of the Texas-based artist.

Trefuego, SME maintained in the to-the-point complaint, had without permission borrowed from 69-year-old Toshifumi Hinata’s “Reflections” recording and composition to create his own track. The result, entitled “90mh,” was per the legal text uploaded to TikTok and streaming services including Spotify in 2019.

Surprisingly, SME only learned of the alleged infringement – with the appropriate track ultimately appearing in about 155,000 TikTok videos and generating north of 100 million Spotify streams – in early 2021, according to the original complaint.

(Hinata addressed the subject on Instagram, lamenting in October of 2021 his instrumental work’s being “repeatedly sampled without permission” by rappers. Inversely, it’s worth mentioning in passing the many major-label acts – some signed to Sony Music – who have allegedly sampled protected music without permission.)

Predictably, the company was far from thrilled with the finding and made as much clear to Trefuego, who allegedly “ignored” the major label’s removal demands. The artist, still active on social media at the time of this writing, also allegedly avoided the lawsuit altogether and was eventually served via a direct message.

That set the stage for August of 2022 DSP takedown notices from SME, a (later-granted) move for judgement in October of 2023, and then the finalization of said judgement today. Trefuego – we reached out for comment but didn’t receive a response in time for publishing – fired back against the former two developments, including with a January retort. Needless to say, though, these efforts failed to bring about the desired outcome.

Returning to the ruling’s specifics, Sony Music went ahead and drew attention to the nearly $700,500 in recording revenue allegedly attributable to “90mh,” the lion’s share having been paid to the defendant and the remaining $14,000 or so having been held by DistroKid.

On top of that sum (which doesn’t include due interest), the court also green-lit payments for what Sony Music claimed it would have charged to license the “Reflections” composition ($102,500). The latter encompasses a $2,500 upfront fee and Sony Music Publishing’s “50% share of the estimated $200,000 in U.S. Spotify & Apple publishing revenue.” (The recording licensing fee, a little over $150,000, is included in the mentioned $700,500 revenue category.)

“While Defendant makes a compelling case that his infringement was unwilful…willfulness only warrants a reduction where the copyright holder seeks statutory damages, rather than actual damages,” Judge Pittman explained.

trefuego lawsuit sony music
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trefuego lawsuit sony music
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A breakdown of the damages Trefuego has been ordered to pay Sony Music. Photo Credit: Digital Music News

Finally, the presiding judge approved SME’s request for about $2,230 in costs (not legal fees) and rejected the particulars of its push for a permanent injunction, including a command for the defendant to register with ASCAP and forward “90mh” payments to SME.

However, the court did order Trefuego to pay SME 50 percent of compositional royalties and 20 percent of recording royalties from future “90mh” performances and exploitations. Should Sony Music and the artist reach a separate deal, “the terms and conditions of the contract shall supersede and override the terms” of the judgement, Judge Pittman clarified in conclusion.